The Firelight Kickstarter campaign is coming July 11, 2017. But many of you who follow the game know this already. Today's question, then, is not of when but rather why.
Why did we decide that Kickstarter was the right funding method for us? What are the compelling arguments for and against running a campaign?
Self Publishing vs Traditional Publishing
The first step we took in deciding a funding method was to examine self publishing systems like Kickstarter and Indiegogo against traditional tabletop publishers. Each has its own unique sets of advantages and disadvantages.
These are the factors we weighed when deciding which funding method to pursue:
A great alternative to a small business loan; does not have to be paid back with interest
Allows the public to directly invest in ideas they love
Gives your consumers the chance to shape the product they are investing in
Serves as a great way to test the viability of your idea in a competitive market
Assists in marketing for small businesses - If your project is going on Kickstarter, you have a story to tell and a platform through which to reach more users
Helps to build loyal customers by inviting them into your circle and asking their help in working towards a common goal
Is a great way to build an online community around your goods and services
Gives you a concrete goal and a concrete deadline to work towards
Whether you succeed or fail, you'll know within 30 days of starting your campaign
A huge crowdfunding success can fund companies for years to come - See Exploding Kittens, Kingdom Death, Cards Against Humanity, etc.
A huge crowdfunding success can also become a burden - If you do not properly account for shipping costs, manufacturing costs, time costs of running the campaign, etc., you run the risk of losing money even on a successful campaign
Backers are directly investing in your product. They expect (and deserve) full transparency wherever possible
Communication with your backers is mandatory. They feel invested in your product for better or worse, and if there will come a time when you must buckle down with work and go silent on communications, for example, that must be communicated to backers first
Many people see crowdfunding as an easy ticket, but it is not. Running a campaign is a full-time job and requires a steady investment of work for months before the campaign even begins
On Kickstarter, if your campaign fails, you see none of the money
Even if a campaign succeeds, you must consider crowdfunding fees and taxes
Clearly, crowdfunding is a complex process - And that's not even getting into the minutiae of pitting one crowdfunding service against another. For now, let's take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of publishing with a traditional publishing partner.
Traditional Publisher Advantages:
Peace of mind - Many publishers will offer living stipends or pay for materials, which can relieve significant financial stress on your end
Easy access to playtesters, artists, and conventions - When you are self publishing, you have to collect these resources for yourself
May provide legal advice for copyrighting your game, trademarking your game, etc.
Comes pre-equipped with a community to pitch your game to
Should have the capacity to distribute your game to retail shops, whereas you would need to handle this yourself in a self-publishing model
May have connections with distributors in foreign countries, whereas you would need to either establish this connection yourself or add foreign shipping fees to your crowdfunding campaign
Traditional Publisher Disadvantages:
Any funds invested in your game generally must be paid back, either as a percentage from your monthly revenue or as an "advance on royalties", where the publisher takes your share of the revenue until the initial investment is recouped
Marketing a game to a publisher is still a campaign, just a different type. Instead of marketing directly to users, you are marketing to an organization responsible for predicting what your users will like
On a similar note, you will not be able to allow your community to have as much of a voice during the creative process
You may have to present a budget to a publisher, and that budget may be cut, meaning you may not be able to execute on your full vision for art, design, etc.
Development milestones may also offer concrete goals to work towards, but may also be restrictive or require crunch to meet
With a fairly comprehensive list of advantages and disadvantages for each funding method in hand, we were able to come to a conclusion by cross-referencing with the list of values that we held for the Firelight project. When deciding for yourself, you should make a similar list; what is most important for you in your project, and how does it line up with the values above?
Community contribution - We are developing a game for a segment of the community that we feel has been underserved, and we want to hear feedback from them during the development process
Clarity - Whether Firelight succeeds or fails, we want the game to do so on its own merits. If the community is not big enough to support the game, it is better to know now, before investing fully in the print run
Future support - In our ideal scenario, the Firelight community would be large enough to support multiple expansions covering numerous themes. By running a crowdfunding campaign, we'll see if the community's potential matches up with this ideal
Flexibility - As a company, we want to be light on our feet and not beholden to lengthy decision-making processes
By matching our values up with the advantages and disadvantages listed above, it became pretty clear that crowdfunding was the right path for us. It is the most direct route to the customers we hope to serve, and it will let us remain flexible whether the community itself grows to a large size or remains small and passionate.
With our funding method decided, it came time to weigh...
Kickstarter vs Indiegogo
The two titans of crowdfunding, Kickstarter and Indiegogo each offer a distinct set of advantages and disadvantages that warrant comparison. For the sake of thoroughness, you could take a deep dive into the full breakdown of one platform's minutiae versus another's.
However, for us it was faster to simply compare the two platforms' unique features against our list of values established above. This allowed us to only focus on the elements that mattered to us.
Community contribution - We want to hear feedback from the community during the development process. Both Kickstarter and Indiegogo feature extensive tools for communicating with your audience, from Updates to Comments. However, Kickstarter has seen over 30,000 Games projects launched (not all of them tabletop, but still a substantial number), and of the Kickstarter categories, Games has the largest number of $1 million-plus campaigns with a whopping 77. This indicates that there is a large and passionate gaming community already accessible via Kickstarter. Indiegogo tends to feature tech and social funding in their reports, indicating that the gaming community there may not be as large. Kickstarter edges out a win here.
Clarity - We would like to know whether the game's potential community is large enough to support it. All Kickstarter campaigns are "All or nothing", meaning if they aren't fully funded, none of the funds come through. On Indiegogo, "every project is different," meaning there are multiple funding styles and that immediate clarity is not there for the end user. Kickstarter wins again.
Future Support - Again, both Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer up a large community, both of which should be able to provide plenty of room for future expansions to the game. It's more or less a draw here, though again, Kickstarter's gaming community seems slightly more robust.
Flexibility - As mentioned in the "Clarity" section, Indiegogo offers multiple funding types. Indiegogo wins out here.
So there you have it - Based on our company values, Kickstarter was the right choice. Your company's values might lead you down a different route, though. Hopefully by reading our analysis, enterprising creators out there can save time and focus down on what really matters for their projects.